Yellowstone National Park - Central Madison Junction, Norris, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Canyon Village, Yellowstone Falls northwest corner of Wyoming Visited: August 25, 2004 NPS Site Visited: 84 of 353 NPS Website
Yellowstone National Park is a diverse natural wonderland roughly twice the size of the state of Delaware.
Because of the Park’s immense size and staggering variety of experiences, we have broken our Yellowstone reviews into three separate entries: the North, Central and South.
WHAT IS IT? The forty-mile stretch of road that travels west to east from the West Entrance of the Park to the Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls. The Central portion of the Park roughly skirts the northern boundary of the Yellowstone caldera.
This section includes two prominent geyser basins, Norris and Monument. The Norris Geyser Basin is home to Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser. Central Yellowstone is most noteworthy for the stunning Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
BEAUTY (10/10) The pink canyon walls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone are astounding. The views of the upper and lower Falls do not seem real, more like a painting. There is a reason the overlook is called Artist Point.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (10/10) In 1872, Yellowstone became the world’s first National Park, the first time land had ever been set aside for public use. Yellowstone NP served as the initial model for the conservation of our precious landscape.
The Museum of the Park Ranger is located in the Norris vicinity. The Museum, staffed exclusively by retired Park Rangers and located in the old Norris Soldier Station, tells the story of an important and often forgotten American educator, law enforcement officer and conservationist: the National Park Ranger.
CROWDS (2/10) Few hikes exist in the Central area of the Park and the tourist is forced to appreciate the terrain along a crowded auto tour route. The Park brochure warns “Canyon and falls visible only from overlooks along canyon rims.” It does not lie. The overlooks are very crowded. Barreling buses, running children, ongoing roadwork, unmarked centerlines, camera induced tunnel vision tourists and limited parking make the canyon area a nightmare despite its overwhelming beauty.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5) Central Yellowstone can be accessed through the Park’s West Entrance, the town of West Yellowstone, Mont. West Yellowstone is 89 miles south of Interstate 90 and Bozeman, Mont. via U.S. Route 191. The West Entrance is also 111 miles northwest of Interstate 15 and Idaho Falls, Idaho via U.S. Route 20.
The Central portion of the Park forms the middle bar of the Figure Eight auto tour. We ran into lots of construction and detours; hopefully now the roads have been completed.
The very accessible Norris Geyser basin can be closely viewed due to an extensive boardwalk system. No falling into boiling water here.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5) The Yellowstone Association runs three stores brimming with books and goodies in the Central region, at Madison, Norris, and Canyon Village. For our fellow geek stamp collectors, all three have distinct National Parks Passport Stamps.
When 7:30 p.m. temperatures dipped below 35 degrees, we were thrilled to find a lounge tucked behind another Canyon gift store and next to the Canyon dining room. We huddled next to the fire and enjoyed a moderately priced beer. The lounge was packed with families, other cold tourists. Oh, the stories we heard.
COSTS (3/5) America's first National Park costs only $20 per vehicle entrance fee. And that includes Grand Teton NP. What a bargain. Those combined 2.5 million acres could be free if you own a National Parks Pass.
The popular Central Yellowstone corridor has lots of lodging potential. The NPS-run first-come first-served Norris campground would have been our choice but it was full. So we settled for a spot in the mega-Xanterra Parks and Resorts-run 272 site Canyon campground where they choose your spot. Nothing stirs our wrath more than a freedom-less campground. Arrrgh we say, arrrgh.
Once the freezing rain started, we appreciated our proximity to the Canyon Village and did not mind our predicament. One of us might even have wished for a night at the nearby Xanterra lodge.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5) It is too bad that the Ranger facilities in the Central pale to their brethren in the North and South. The Canyon Village Visitor Center is just a trailer, dwarfed by the surrounding Xanterra gift shops and restaurants. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? We saw no Rangers at the Canyon overlooks.
TOURS/CLASSES (6/10) During summer months, three Ranger-led talks occur daily at the Norris Geyser Basin and an amazing 14 take place alongside the Canyon. We went on a guided walk through the Norris geysers, but left early because we were eager to explore on our own. Sorry Mr. Ranger but your Park just beckons, especially when the sky unexpectedly turns blue.
But before we could get to the Canyon, the weather took a turn for the worse. All tours were cancelled and we were left wondering a) will it get better by tomorrow; b) can we wait it out in our tent; c) is it going to snow and d) what can we do in the mean time. We found out a) no; b) yes, frigidly; c) does two inches of freezing rain count? and d) not much at all.
The Visitor Center at Canyon Village is just a trailer. No exhibits are on display and the videos are shown on a small television surrounded by a few plastic chairs. Because of the weather, the chairs were full and the trailer stuffed to the gills. Yellowstone NP is notorious for its temperamentally bad weather. It is a shame that the Visitor Center in one of its most popular areas is so inadequate.
The next morning, after shaking off the shivers, we traveled to the delightful Museum of the National Park Ranger near Norris and located in the old Norris Soldier Station building. Our August 25 trip coincided with the 88th birthday of the Congressional creation of our Park system. We couldn't think of a better place to be.
FUN (6/10) The central portion of Yellowstone was not the highlight of our visit. Because of its altitude and geographic location, it is usually colder and wetter than Mammoth Hot Springs. It was no exception during our visit. We can handle being cold and wet (evidently not, it seems), especially since most of our time in the central region was spent in the car auto-touring. But add immense crowds, limited access to overlooks and road construction around every turn and you can see why we were eager to move on.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10) Even at its least fun, Yellowstone is still heads and shoulders above other parks and still a must see. The Falls and the Grand Canyon are still breathtakingly beautiful. The Ranger Museum is still a hidden gem and an inviting place to spend a rainy morning.
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